The Cidade de Deus or CDD, as it is called by Rio’s inhabitants, was built in 1966 when the Brazilian government wanted to rid Rio de Janeiro of its favelas, which are called the slums in the periphery of big Brazilian cities. The idea behind the City of God was to open up new opportunities for the poor. It was supposed to provide new flats and houses for Brazilians, representing a glimmer of hope for many. Living in the City of God meant living far away from poverty and crime unlike the favelas. But the plan went wrong, extremely wrong. Cidade de Deus has been a part of Rio since 1981. But believe me when I say that it’s a place you don’t ever want to visit. Why? Because it is one of the most crime-riddled places in South America.

Violent felonies, rape and murder are here on the daily agenda as a multitude of dangerous armed gangs fights for hegemony in the drug commerce. The city that was built to provide new housing and dwellings has turned into a slum itself. Poverty is waiting for you around every corner and breaking out of this vicious circle defined by crime, drugs and unemployment seems almost impossible. The City of God became so notorious and feared that it was chosen as the setting for countless movies, novels and documentaries. No wonder considering the Cidade de Deus is, for many people, the equivalent of hell on earth.

However, the Brazilian government clearly could not sit around and wait for poverty and crime to disappear on its own. In 2009, war was declared on the gangs. A massive force of police was sent to the City of God to drive away them away. In order to boost the economy in the former South American drug citadel, a new currency furthermore was exclusively established in the Cidade de Deus. The goal was to encourage the inhabitants to buy local goods instead of shopping in wealthier areas where many go for work. The efforts seem to have paid off. The alternative currency is now more valuable than the official Brazilian currency, the “Real”.

In 2011, even president Obama gave the city of god a visit. Maybe, some day, the cidade de deus will do its name justice and become a city of god.